A Twenty-First Century Church
Power has ruined America. Not only on the Left. Now it has done the same for the Right. I analyzed this problem in my book Why I Stopped Listening to Rush: Confessions of a Recovering Neocon. The Right has a large clientele. When it takes a wrong turn it turns all its followers in the wrong direction. The Right has taken over every platitude, every trite slogan. It has prostituted itself with power, status, and wealth. Only a few would deny that these same attitudes have infiltrated the church. There is only one small light left in the darkness, and it is the pure Word of God. A recovery of some fundamentals is still possible, but only if we obey the Scriptures. Here is where the Master’s genius is fully revealed. He turns the status grid on its head. Power cannot last if we do not worship it.
We must take the existing patterns of church life seriously as a point from which renewal can begin. Rather than hit-and-run tactics, an inclusive strategy can and must be agreed upon. Speaking as a realist, there will always be a degree of continuity with present patterns of church life, rigid and uncritical though they may be. I am quite sure that pseudoradical ideas (including some ideas coming out of the emerging church movement) will not work because they have the same money, paid staff, buildings, investments, clericalism, and institutionalism as do most conventional churches. Of greatest importance is that we stop viewing the church as an end rather than a means to an end: it is God’s means of sculpturing a new humanity, a spiritual kingdom out of the dross of humanity. It is time for constructive new proposals, and more and more churchmen (including bloggers) are asking what can be done. If the Spirit is willing, and if we act together, change can happen – change for the better, for the advancement of the kingdom, and for the glory of God.
What, then, might the renewed church of the twenty-first century look like? It will be a serving church. Its organizational structure will be simple, unencumbered by bureaucrats and bureaucracies. Its financial priorities will reflect a commitment to missions, local and global. Capital expenditures will be reduced and the savings earmarked for discipleship. Jobs that are currently salaried positions will be filled by volunteer help or eliminated. Denominations will make drastic reductions in funds spent on publications that are a waste of the church’s money (bulletins, Sunday School quarterlies – the Bible will be used instead – and glossy magazines). Church buildings will be used for primary and secondary Christian education. Believers will gladly work transdenominationally and cooperatively, especially at the local level. The church will proclaim the Good News of the Gospel as its first priority while not neglecting the cultural mandate. A full-fledged lay ministry will replace clericalism. Individual believers will be expected to assume specialized ministries according to their giftedness. Churches will provide regular lay training (with the seminaries assisting them) and build voluntary programs of education into their structures. Worship will no longer be confined to a single time or place. Preoccupation with church buildings will be seen for what it is – idolatry. The church will no longer cling to its prerogatives but take the form of a servant. It will refuse any longer to shun the secular. Trained pastors will become humble assistants to the “ministers” – every member. In this renewed church we will encounter disciples who take the going forth as seriously as they do the gathering. New members will be asked to specify a regular community involvement (neighborhood council, PTA, volunteer library staff, nursing home visitation, etc.) in addition to their commitment to a ministry in the church.
The points I have been making (and I could offer many more examples of positive descriptions of the renewed church) do not represent simply my own opinion. They are backed up by countless studies that contrast sharply with the grandiose structures we have become accustomed to since Christendom came on the scene. The fight of faith to which we are committed is not a battle against Christianity. It is a battle to free Christianity from the shackles of Christendom, to smash our idols, and to establish a church that is once again characterized by poverty of spirit.
Has the Bible ever taught otherwise?
September 1, 2007
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.